LETTER FROM SIBERIA (LETTRE DE SIBERIE)
(director/writer: Chris Marker; cinematographer: Sacha Verny; editor: Anne Sarraute ; music: Pierre Barbaud; cast: Georges Rouquier(Narrator); Runtime: 62; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producer: Anatole Dauman; Janus Films; 1958-France-in English)
“An engaging lyrical personal essay documentary.“
Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz
An engaging lyrical personal essay documentary from French New Wave filmmaker Chris Marker (“La Jetée”/”Sans Soleil”), a Marxist humanist who died in 2012 at age 91. Narrator Georges Rouquier documents Marker’s vivid impressions of Siberia, as told in the style of a letter. The text of Letter was published in Commentaires 1 (61).
In an endearing way, shunning Soviet propaganda and Western negativity toward socialism, the unique world traveler filmmaker tells how the backward remote region in the USSR was gotten by Russia from a treaty with China and how it’s making progress advancing from the middle-ages to a 21st century economy by doing such things as constructing hydro-power plants. We learn that it regularly gets to thirty below in winter and 120 degrees in summer.
That the first great modern trans-formative change in Siberia was the Trans-Siberian Railway, the longest railroad in the world that links all of Siberia. It was built 1891–1916. There’s a comic animated bit on the importance of reindeer to the locals, which gives Marker a chance to spoof American consumerism in a silly commercial that Kellogg’s would make for its cereal products.
Marker also talks about sables, mammoths, diamonds and gold discoveries, along with a few folklore customs among the natives that he gladly passes on to us. Marker’s sly humor is given voice again in his shots of the the Siberian city of Yalutsk—in which we see in one shot a packed bus, workers toiling on a road, and a local man glancing at the French camera crew on the street and have three different commentaries.
The first one is conventional Soviet propaganda; the second is American misinformation; and the third is neutral. The rarely seen film, from a filmmaker who refused to be photographed, is a timeless don’t miss one.
REVIEWED ON 5/13/2018 GRADE: A https://dennisschwartzreviews.com/